I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 7But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” 9(When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:1 - 16 (NRSV)
At Homecoming I suggested that our Baptist friend, Rick Warren is right on the mark when he said that church health is more important than church growth. And nothing speaks to church health more than spiritually-mature members. This is a recurrent and prevailing theme in Paul’s theology, becoming spiritually-mature.
In our text Paul makes it clear that maturity isn’t the goal, but maturity is the strength that will allow us to accomplish the goal of a church built and operating on love.
An elderly nun ran out of gas on the seedier side of town. She found that she didn’t have a gas can, but there was a hospital bedpan in the back seat. So she walked to the nearest gas station, filled the bedpan and walked slowly back to her car. As the nun carefully poured the gas into the tank two slightly inebriated atheists happened to pass by. One of them saw what the nun was doing and poked the other: Hey, hold on, I gotta see this; if that car starts I’m joinin’ the church! It is always a good thing to stop and check to see if what you’re built for is what you’re running on.
This morning I’d like for us to do that. The church was constructed by Christ to run on love, mature love. In our text Paul gives us four marks of a mature believer. Let’s all check our tanks…
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14 (NRSV)
Paul knew that good people are always targets for those who want something and don’t have much of a conscience when it comes to how they achieve their goals.
Stability in the life of a Christian is something that develops because the believer takes the time and patience to become a disciple. And it doesn’t happen overnight, but rather over time, and with attention given to God’s Word. Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy:
But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, Ephesians 4:15 (NRSV)
Jesus Christ is our standard for how we act. Everywhere you look in the Scriptures Jesus told people the truth, and it was always because he loved.
It is one maddening trait we humans have that we’d rather see a train run over a friend than take the risk that in speaking truth we might hurt feelings. It’s true that some people are like a pit bull charging through a china shop when it comes to interpersonal relationships. But that still does not get us off the hook about telling the truth. Truth without love is brutality so we must be sensitive and caring when we talk to each other, but love without truth doesn’t exist!
from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:16 (NRSV)
A physical body is inter-dependant on the various parts. My stomach would have a tough time digesting food and sending nutrition through the bloodstream if my hands and arms decided to go on strike. If my eyes go on vacation I’m going to have a hard time not bumping into things.
The Body of Christ isn’t any different. We need each other, and cooperation in Christ’s family enables us to be missional. This is what Paul calls being “knit” together. Chaos is brokenness; Christ, our peace heals us, knits us back together.
Why is this so vital?
All of what the apostle Paul wrote promotes the health of the Body of Christ. And health promotes growth!
Imagine what happens when you have stable, mature Christian believers refusing to settle for less than truth with each other, and cooperating with everything they’ve got in the mission of the church to share the love of Jesus. Just imagine.
The church was designed to run on the fuel of love. With the stability of truth and love cooperating we can function in our mission to this community to bring about peace, mercy and justice in the name of Christ. We can do that together.